Femal Metal Voices 2019

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Femal Metal Voices 2019 - The Bread Shed, Manchester (UK) - 28 November 2019

When I first saw the line-up for the UK leg of the Female Metal Voices Tour I was surprised that the venue in Manchester chosen to host the event was The Factory. It is a small building, used primarily for club nights rather than live shows. On arriving at the door for the early 6pm opening it was then quite irksome to discover that an eleventh hour change had been made and the Bread Shed was now to host the five bands and the door time had been brought forward to 5.30. Despite a brisk march in the cool evening air I arrived just as festival openers Kassogtha were leaving the stage. I was advised by the ticket attendant that they could not even fit a drum-kit onto the tiny stage at The Factory, so the new venue was much more suited to the bands and their gear. It was my first visit to The Bread Shed and I was impressed by the set-up and certainly by the sound as the evening progressed. The only disappointment was the size of the turnout. There were only thirty or so people inside when I first arrived and though the numbers increased slightly it was hardly worthy of a line-up that I am sure attracted bigger numbers throughout the rest of Europe, where this kind of music is held in higher regard.

Finland's Lost In Grey were a new name to me, so it was interesting to see a keyboard take centre stage as the band took to setting up their equipment. Founder member and principal composer Harri Koskela was certainly a focal point and his intense vocals contrasted really well with those of the two female singers, Anne Lill and Emily Leone. There is something of a theatrical sense about the LIG musical style and the keys added an extra dimension to a sound that would normally be augmented by taped backing tracks. They have been around since 2013 and it was clear they had a few fans in the room. Though they played for only thirty minutes and the intensity of some the growling was sometimes distracting, the energy levels were high and they received a warm reception at the end of their set.

I am more familiar with Denmark's Forever Still and reviewed their debut full-length album 'Tied Down', back in 2016 (initially released independently in 2015). Distinctly more "Metal" than the other bands on the bill, and comparable to a Lacuna Coil/Evanescence blend, FS delivered a great performance that was more to my liking. Fronted by the hypnotic Maja Shining, the three-piece worked without a bass player and even though the taped enhancements bolstered the sound considerably, the musicians on stage still captivated everyone in the room. Shining is the real star of FS, without taking anything away from guitarist Mikkel Haastrup and drummer Rune Frisch. She is a non-stop whirlwind with a stunning voice that is a mesmerising caress one minute and a punch in the face the next. There were no extended guttural screams and when she took to the keyboards with Haastrup for something more intimate it showcased her skills even more. The material from the most recent 'Breathe In Colours' album slotted in nicely between those from the more established 'Tied Down', highlighting the burgeoning creative ethos of Haastrup and Shining.

When Norwegian Symphonic Metal quartet Sirenia began I was still looking through the extensive merchandise selection. I only possess one Sirenia album (2007's 'Nine Destinies And A Downfall'), so again it was a set primarily full of unfamiliar material. The band have struggled to establish a permanent female lead singer during their eighteen-year career, but French-born Emmanuelle Zoldan seems to have stabilised things somewhat since taking on the mantle in 2016. She has been part of the Sirenian Choir for a long time, so I guess she was an obvious choice to step forward into a more prominent role. Sirenia is the brainchild of Morten Veland, who plays guitar and adds the growling elements to the songs. Sirenia were another band to be missing a bass player, but again any deficiencies were doctored by backing tapes and the use of two guitars certainly added a distinct edge to proceedings. Zoldan had a good set of pipes and seemed to handle all eras of the music really well. 'Into The Night', from 2018's 'Arcane Astral Aeons', is a more commercial side of the band with an instant hook, and it was also good to hear 'The Other Side' from 'Nine Destinies...'. I thought I would have struggled with the less familiar songs, but one of Sirenia's strengths is the immediacy of the arrangements and the way the melodies impact.

The last time I saw Leaves' Eyes was when they played one of the ProgPower UK festivals in Cheltenham, some thirteen or so years ago. At the time co-founder Liv Kristine was the female lead-singer and I remember being quite underwhelmed by her vocals and the band as a whole. The contrasting female "clean" and male "unclean" vocal interplay left me cold and I also thought the songs lacked quality and appeal. Since Kristine's controversial departure in 2016 Elina Siirala has fronted LE, alongside original and second co-founding member Alexander Krull. Siirala certainly has a great voice and is also easy on the eye, but I still struggled a little with Krull's involvement in the overall sound. Again the more epic elements of the music were on tape, alongside two guitars, bass and drums. The crystal-clear mix provided great instrument separation and the rich audio was better than I had heard in higher profile venues in recent years. The audience had warmed up nicely by this time and the LE fans in attendance were all singing along heartily. I was content to watch and listen from the bar, occasionally stepping forward to take a few photos. 'Black Butterfly' was a song that made an impact and 'Farewell Proud Men' got quite a few people bouncing and this seemed to generate the best atmosphere of the night, despite the small numbers.

Female Metal Voices has been on the calendar for a number of years now, but this is the first time I have attended. It was thoroughly enjoyable and I think the change of location benefited everyone. Kudos to all the bands for their enthusiasm in front of a small crowd and also to the organisers for putting the show together. It was worth the trip into Manchester on a very cold late November night and I will be adding it to my gig calendar in 2020 for sure.

Dave Bott

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